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18 October 2015 @ 03:05 pm
Apples and Oranges? More like Apples and Formaldehyde  
The same author who recently compared an 1892 reading list to a contemporary list published by Scholastic apparently loves writing about these types of comparisons. Here is another of her comparisons that basically demonstrate how poorly read contemporary kids are: http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/middle-school-reading-lists-100-years-ago-vs-today. And here are the two lists.





Here are the points she makes from these two lists. The books from the past are more likely to be time tested than the contemporary list. The themes (and she confuses main idea with theme, more about this later) are more "historic" (I am not quite sure about the p oint to tell the truth. Perhaps I am reading too many contemporary books?). The first paragraphs somehow demonstrate the superiority of the classics.

Now, here are some salient points the author does not address:

1. The contemporary list has books by women (only 2 on the classic list) and people of color (I do not know all of the authors of the classics, but the ones I do know are make and white and Western). Diversity was not often found in classic texts. If we wish books to be windows and mirrors and doors, we need to include books by a more diverse set of authors.

2. The comparison of the first paragraph of NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH to the opening paragraph of EVANGELINE is just flat out unfair. One is a poem. The other is a documentary novel, a book that pushed the envelope when it comes to literature for kids. It would be akin to comparing the opening scene in Hamlet with the opening scene in a Mamet play. The language might be different. That does nto mean, however, neither has its own merits.

3. Let's talk theme, literary theme, not topic or main idea. The contemporary books encompass a wide range of main ideas, to be sure. The themes explored are classic ones. A lie often begets more and more lies. Censoring books leads to censoring ideas and ultimately to censoring of society and all it entails.

The conclusion of the author if this piece is that reading scores might just shoot up if we just gave kids more challenging books. I think perhaps the author might consider redefining what is meant by challenging. If old/classic=challenging, her argument bears some merit. However, there is more to challenging that old/classic. Words matter, themes matter, characters matter, diversity matters, ideas matter. Age, not so much.
 
 
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